What are Nursing Ethics?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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Nursing ethics is an area of ethics which concerns the nursing profession. It shares many similarities with medical ethics, and both may be lumped under the umbrella of biomedical ethics, the field of ethics which surrounds the biomedical sciences. There are a number of professional journals of nursing ethics, along with organizations which discuss ethical issues which pertain to nursing. Professional organizations of nurses also usually set their own ethical standards, periodically revising them to meet changing ethical norms.

At the center of nursing ethics is the idea that nursing is a collaborative occupation, and that patients have the right to bodily autonomy as much as possible. Many ethical codes for nursing stress the human rights component, the need to obtain informed consent from patients whenever it is feasible to do so, and the need to center the patient's needs and desires when developing plans for patient care. “Caring, not curing,” is sometimes used to describe this, with the idea that the nurse cannot focus on medical treatments and ignore the needs of the patient.


As in other branches of biomedical ethics, nursing ethics stresses that nurses should do nothing which could actively inflict harm on a patient, whether it be physical or emotional harm. Nurses are also obliged to observe professional standards in their relationships with patients and other medical professionals with whom they interact. Many codes of nursing ethics specifically direct nurses to use respect and compassion in interactions with patients, and also encourage nurses to act as advocates for patients and communities.

It is not uncommon for a code of nursing ethics to indicate that nurses need to pursue professional development and continuing education, whether they are working in research, medical practice, product development, policy advising, or other capacities. This echoes licensing requirements, with continuing education being required to retain a nursing license in most regions of the world. An ethical code for nurses may also stress that nurses should be involved in attempts to improve health care, to make health care more accessible, and to raise the standard of living in their communities.

For professional nurses, adherence to a code of ethics is expected. Aside from providing standards of behavior which the nurse uses in practice, an indication that a nurse intends to conform with ethical standards is usually required to retain membership in professional organizations and to retain a nursing license. Failure to abide by nursing ethics can result in an ethics hearing and potential suspension, termination from a position, or revocation of a nursing license.


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Post 3

GreenWeaver-Nursing laws and ethics require that the patients be cared for with the highest degree of dignity. The nurse has to follow the advance directive made by the patient.

A problem arises when the patient reaches an incapacitated state and did not consent to a type of end of life care.

This happened with my father who was in a coma and not likely to recover. He had not previously signed an advance directive so the nurses had to keep my father comfortable until he passed away.

Nursing laws and ethics requires that the nurse could not remove my father from life support unless the one who had power of attorney signed a do not resuscitation form.

Ethics and nursing practice require confidentially regarding the patients condition and only immediate family should be made aware of the patient's condition.

Post 2

Comfyshoes-There may be patients that do not want to know that they have a terminal illness and nursing ethics regarding autonomy requires that the nurse obey the wishes of the patient in this regard.

In this case, the nurse has to seek information from a living will or the power of attorney that was previous established in order to determine the course of care.

For example, when it was determined that my mother had terminal cancer that was in its advanced stages, my sisters and I made the decision that we did not want my mother to know because it would cause additional suffering for her and we did not want her to be thinking about her death.

While the doctor was totally against this course of action, he and the nurse had to adhere to our wishes and they did so.

Ethics in the nursing practice requires adhering to the wishes of the family regardless of how they feel the matter should be handled.

Post 1

Ethics of nursing practice really involves allowing the patient to have the dignity to make their own decision based on the information that they have.

This makes it more difficult when the patient becomes incapacitated and does not have an advance directive with respect to health care.

Having someone listed as a power of attorney can also serve as a helpful source for a nurse when medical decisions need to be made. Nursing ethics topics involve telling the truth regarding the medical condition of the patient but there is debate as to how much the person should know.

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